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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 19 April 2006
Perspective: Making Much of News of Superficial Changes
Topic: Reality-Based Woes

Perspective: Making Much of News of Superficial Changes

Sometimes it's just hard to comment on the major political story of the day, when the big news Wednesday, April 19th, was just not very interesting. It was "more of the same," as the Los Angeles Times account opened with this succinct sentence - "President Bush on Wednesday reduced the official role that Karl Rove, his chief political strategist, will play in setting policy, and he accepted the resignation of spokesman Scott McClellan, in the latest moves aimed at reinvigorating his presidency and recovering from low public approval ratings."


Oil prices hit a record high, again, Iraq is a mess and doesn't yet have a government, we may be about to launch a preemptive nuclear war on Iran, and there was this. It's for political junkies, "inside baseball" stuff. The new chief of staff at the White House, Joshua Bolten, replacing the earnest and utterly forgettable Andrew Card, is going to "energize an administration that has been beset by a lack of progress on a number of second-term initiatives and has left Republicans nervous about losing control of Congress."


Yep, get rid of the press flak, McClellan, who since June of 2003 had the job of saying as little as possible, defending what had been done or not done, when he himself was kept out of the loop. Best he not know too much. He might say the wrong thing. He's been with the president since 1999 back in Texas, an old friend used up and sent on his way. On television he looked relieved. He's worked for Bush since he was thirty, and maybe now he gets to have a life. Seven years of humiliation, pretending he could explain what he was never really told, takes its toll. He seems like a nice fellow. It wasn't hard to feel good for him. The job is a miserable one when, in this case, it was to say as little as possible to a press corps that wanted to know as much as possible. Some change is good.

As for Karl Rove, he "will no longer have direct operational responsibility over White House policy decision-making." After the last election he had been elevated - he decided what the policies should be, as he had a finely tuned political sensibility. He knew what could be sold to America. Maybe it was Social Security reform that did him in (no one wanted that), or his advice on how to handle things when Hurricane Katrina hit (stay away). Who knows? Now his sole job will be political strategy - on the taxpayers' dime he needs to make sure the Republicans don't lost control of the House or the Senate, or both, this November. Your tax dollars at work, buying dirty tricks.

The Times explains -
Rove has been the master strategist for Bush's four consecutive victories in his races for governor of Texas and the presidency. He is known by the president variously as "the architect," for his role in plotting Bush's stunning electoral success, "boy wonder" for his political acumen, and "turd blossom," a teasing reference to the flower that blooms from Texas cow pies and to Rove's ability to turn messy situations into political triumphs.
Yeah, well, there are reports he advised Silvio Berlusconi this spring, but that didn't go so well - "Italy's highest court yesterday cleared the way for Romano Prodi, the centre-left leader, to take over as prime minister by confirming his victory in last week's hotly disputed general election." Where's Justice Scalia when you need him? Rove is having a run of bad luck. Making him a fulltime political strategist may not be the best thing.

But this is all tinkering with insiders. No one new is coming in. This administration doesn't do change. People change offices and get new business cards.

This nugget is interesting -
A former White House official who talked recently with Bolten said the moves resulted from Bolten's view that he needed to address three serious problems facing Bush: Deteriorating press coverage, souring relations with Congress and increasingly uncomfortable interactions between the White House and GOP political candidates nationwide. The former official asked not to be identified because of concern the White House might not appreciate his comments during a difficult time.
Why? That seems to be the assessment. The current troika is committed to their policies - preemptive war, regime change in nations that are troublesome, massive tax cuts for the wealthy, fighting back those who would protect the environment and all the rest. The problem, as they see it, is all this has been marketed poorly, so we get a new marketing team.

What do you do when no one buys your product? If you have no other product in the pipeline, and you just can't see how anyone would be so stupid as to refuse to buy what you're selling, you change the marketing team a little, using existing staff of course. The president has an MBA and they don't call him the "CEO President" for nothing. Cynics may call this "putting lipstick on the pig" but the idea seems to be that you can sell anyone anything with clever marketing. That is objectively just not true. Remember the New Coke? The Edsel? But you have to admire their faith in the power of "message control" and banners and speeches. Expect an ad blitz.

There's more here from Time Magazine, explaining "what's behind the White House shuffling," as if it matters. They say McClellan's predecessor, Ari Fleischer, told them the departure was "a selfless recognition by McClellan of the importance of change." Fleischer - "The American people are going to give the President a second look here in his sixth year because he's engineering these changes. That's helpful. He needs the country to give him a second look."

No, it's too late.

And the guy who takes over the Karl Rove task of direct operational responsibility over White House policy decision-making? The job they took away from Rove?

Time explains who that is -
In a second announcement that hit like an earthquake internally, the White House said that wunderkind Joel Kaplan will be Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, taking over some day-to-day non-political turf that once had been the province of his now-fellow Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove, who retains the title of senior adviser.

... Kaplan, the new third Deputy Chief of Staff, was Bolten's deputy in the policy shop in Austin during the President's first national campaign, worked in the Chief of Staff's office when Bolten was one of the two deputies in the first term, and was most recently his deputy at the Office of Management and Budget. Kaplan, who has two Harvard degrees, was an artillery officer in the Marine Corps and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, was scheduled to return today from his honeymoon.
Scalia? How odd. One gets the feeling the new marketing team is the old one, with more energy as they've not been ground down quite as much.

This is the big story - more of the same thing, with new guys who are just like the old guys, but who haven't been beat up for the last six years. It's not much of a story.

There may be more to it, if you like rumors. You might want to glace at this - "Has Rove's Security Clearance Been Revoked?" The idea is he cannot do policy stuff anymore because he doesn't have clearance, or soon will not have clearance. That happens when you're involved in revealing the name of a secret government agent to "get" your political opponents, or seem to be. The law is clear.

And Wednesday there was this - "I'm hearing rumors that Fitz met with the Valerie Plame grand jury this morning. and Rove was the topic of discussion." Will Patrick Fitzgerald indict Rove this week? That would explain a lot. But this is just rumor.

As for the new policy guy, Joel Kaplan, who won't be indicted, there's this -
The man Bush tapped to fill Karl Rove's spot as his policy wizard is none other than Joel Kaplan, who took part in the infamous "Brooks Brothers riot" of 2000. That's when a bunch of Washington GOP operatives, posing as outraged Floridians, waved fists, chanted "Stop the fraud!" and pounded windows in an effort to intimidate officials engaged in the Florida recount effort.

In George Bush's Washington, there's no shame in staging a fake protest to undermine a democratic election, apparently: last year, the Washington Post's Al Kamen noted that "the "rioters" proudly note their participation on resumes and in interviews." Kaplan was even the one to cheekily dub the fracas the "Brooks Brothers Riot."
Same tune, second verse.

Howard Fineman sums it up here - "White House rearranges the deck chairs, but policy course stays the same."

The core of that? This -
Bush has become a one-man holding action.

Some officials were upset when the president said that it would be up to his successor to decide when to end America's military involvement in Iraq. At least one of them told me that Bush hadn't meant to say such a thing, and didn't mean what he seemed to be saying. But it's true: He's not leaving Iraq anytime soon, or even winding the war down dramatically. Yes, there are generals who think we never should have gone there, or that the way we went was horribly botched. But that's not enough to make Bush willing to pull the plug, or even fire Donald Rumsfeld. On Iraq, in poker terms, Bush is doubling down.

Nor is he likely to make wholesale changes in his foreign policy and defense team. Bolten can rearrange the deck chairs all he wants to on domestic and economic policy. But the Axis of Believers - Cheney-Rummy-Rove-Condi - remains. The more the media and its band of Republican allies complain, the more dug in Bush will become. He's as stubborn as Slim Pickens in "Dr. Strangelove": He'd rather ride Rummy to Armageddon than seem to concede that Iraq was a botched project.

Reining in runaway federal spending is on the Bush to-do list. But it isn't going to happen on his watch. He's unlikely to hit even his graded-on-a-curve target of cutting the annual deficit in half by the end of his second term. "Domestic discretionary" spending is flat, true, but everything else is through the roof: defense, of course, but also a list of entitlements recently expanded to include the president's expensive new prescription drug-benefit program.

Albeit gingerly, Bush has blamed Congress. But he doesn't dare get too nasty. After all, his own Republican Party has been in charge of the teller window throughout his presidency. And the GOP is unlikely to put a clamp on spending in the run-up to midterm congressional elections.

Sen. John McCain hates earmarks, and rightfully so. They are an abuse of process. But the GOP is trailing in generic congressional polls by huge margins. They are as far behind as the Democrats were in 1994, when Newt Gingrich led his rebels over the wall and into the citadel.

In House and Senate races, many Republicans will be left with only one argument: Don't you love the federal dollars I bring you?

And, by the way, remember Social Security reform? That was going to be the big one, the big domestic initiative of the second term. It went nowhere. A president with a job-approval rating in the 30s can't do much - certainly not revamp the most costly and crucial social welfare program on the planet.

Finally, Iran: a nightmare waiting to happen. I'm not a global intel guy, but the people I know and trust tell me that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the real deal; that is, a real menace - and not just to Israel, but to our other major client/partners/sort-of-friends in the region, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon.

But the president is hemmed in; his erstwhile British buddy, Prime Minister Tony Blair, preventively has said "count me out" of any military action.
When you're hemmed in? Improve marketing.

As for riding Rummy to Armageddon, this is curious, Tim Russert on MSNBC's Imus show saying this -
Well, I knew something was happening when I had John Murtha on several months ago and he talked about his plan for a timetable. And I got several calls from people at the Pentagon and others and they said, "You know Murtha's right." And I was stunned because you don't usually get those kinds of calls. They were obviously people who would not allow me to broadcast their names. And then it continued with General Zinni who came on "Meet the Press" and said that Secretary Rumsfeld should resign. So the last couple of weeks, as I talked to people, one former general said we have the equivalent of a civil war going on at the Pentagon. The generals are trying to reclaim control of the war because they do believe serious mistakes were made. That's a very serious statement. And then, someone very close to the President said to me, you know, he won't fire Rumsfeld because it would be the equivalent of firing himself. He can't acknowledge that it was such a big mistake, in so many ways. And so Rumsfeld will stay. And that's the decision that the President has made and I think Rumsfeld will stay and try to see this through.
The link has the video of that. The president can't fire Rumsfeld "because it would be the equivalent of firing himself."

So we need better marketing. Rumsfeld is right. Bush is doing all the right things. Sell that.

The problem is, of course, the counter-marketing, somewhat reality-based.

An example might be this week's issue of Rolling Stone, the one with the drawing of George Bush on the cover, in a dunce cap in the corner, illustrating the cover story by the historian Sean Wilentz of Princeton - The Worst President in History?

That opens with this -
George W. Bush's presidency appears headed for colossal historical disgrace. Barring a cataclysmic event on the order of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, after which the public might rally around the White House once again, there seems to be little the administration can do to avoid being ranked on the lowest tier of U.S. presidents. And that may be the best-case scenario. Many historians are now wondering whether Bush, in fact, will be remembered as the very worst president in all of American history.

From time to time, after hours, I kick back with my colleagues at Princeton to argue idly about which president really was the worst of them all. For years, these perennial debates have largely focused on the same handful of chief executives whom national polls of historians, from across the ideological and political spectrum, routinely cite as the bottom of the presidential barrel. Was the lousiest James Buchanan, who, confronted with Southern secession in 1860, dithered to a degree that, as his most recent biographer has said, probably amounted to disloyalty - and who handed to his successor, Abraham Lincoln, a nation already torn asunder? Was it Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, who actively sided with former Confederates and undermined Reconstruction? What about the amiably incompetent Warren G. Harding, whose administration was fabulously corrupt? Or, though he has his defenders, Herbert Hoover, who tried some reforms but remained imprisoned in his own outmoded individualist ethic and collapsed under the weight of the stock-market crash of 1929 and the Depression's onset? The younger historians always put in a word for Richard M. Nixon, the only American president forced to resign from office.

Now, though, George W. Bush is in serious contention for the title of worst ever. In early 2004, an informal survey of 415 historians conducted by the nonpartisan History News Network found that eighty-one percent considered the Bush administration a "failure." Among those who called Bush a success, many gave the president high marks only for his ability to mobilize public support and get Congress to go along with what one historian called the administration's "pursuit of disastrous policies." In fact, roughly one in ten of those who called Bush a success was being facetious, rating him only as the best president since Bill Clinton - a category in which Bush is the only contestant.

The lopsided decision of historians should give everyone pause. Contrary to popular stereotypes, historians are generally a cautious bunch. We assess the past from widely divergent points of view and are deeply concerned about being viewed as fair and accurate by our colleagues. When we make historical judgments, we are acting not as voters or even pundits, but as scholars who must evaluate all the evidence, good, bad or indifferent.
And the extremely long and devastating argument follows. The answer is yes. Worst ever.

As for this showdown with Iran, see William Beeman, a professor of Middle East studies at Brown University, here -
Indeed, the danger in this situation could be dismissed if there were other leaders in power. However, in both nations the leadership needs this conflict. President Bush and the Republican Party face defeat in November without an issue to galvanize the voting public behind their assertion that they are best able to protect the United States from attack - the only point on which they have outscored Democrats in recent polls. President Ahmadinejad also needs public support for his domestic political agenda - an agenda that is paradoxically opposed by a large number of the ruling clerics in Iran. Every time he makes a defiant assertion against the United States, the public rallies behind him.

This creates what political scientist Richard Cottam termed a "spiral conflict" in which both parties escalate each other's extreme positions to new heights. It is entirely possible that Iran could goad President Bush into a disastrous military action, and that action would result in an equally disastrous Iranian reaction.
Ah, eggheads. What do they know?

Here's more -
Thirteen of the nation's most prominent physicists have written a letter to President Bush, calling U.S. plans to reportedly use nuclear weapons against Iran "gravely irresponsible" and warning that such action would have "disastrous consequences for the security of the United States and the world."

The physicists include five Nobel laureates, a recipient of the National Medal of Science and three past presidents of the American Physical Society, the nation's preeminent professional society for physicists.

Their letter was prompted by recent articles in the Washington Post, New Yorker and other publications that one of the options being considered by Pentagon planners and the White House in a military confrontation with Iran includes the use of nuclear bunker busters against underground facilities. These reports were neither confirmed nor denied by White House and Pentagon officials.
Who are these guys?

– Philip Anderson, professor of physics at Princeton University and Nobel Laureate in Physics
– Michael Fisher, professor of physics at the Institute for Physical Science and Technology, University of Maryland and Wolf Laureate in Physics
– David Gross, professor of theoretical physics and director of the Kavli Institute of Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Nobel Laureate in Physics
– Jorge Hirsch, professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego
– Leo Kadanoff, professor of physics and mathematics at the University of Chicago and recipient of the National Medal of Science
– Joel Lebowitz, professor of mathematics and physics, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and Boltzmann Medalist
– Anthony Leggett, professor of physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Nobel Laureate, Physics
– Eugen Merzbacher, professor of physics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and former president, American Physical Society
– Douglas Osheroff, professor of physics and applied physics, Stanford University and Nobel Laureate, Physics
– Andrew Sessler, former director of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and former president, American Physical Society
– George Trilling, professor of physics, University of California, Berkeley, and former president, American Physical Society
– Frank Wilczek, professor of physics, MIT and Nobel Laureate, Physics
– Edward Witten, professor of physics, Institute for Advanced Study and Fields Medalist.

Meanwhile they're rearranging the deck chairs at the White House, as Fineman puts it. Saw the movie and loved the computer-generated iceberg. Impressive.

Or there's the other metaphor - the guys just reassigned to marketing are "putting lipstick on this pig," hoping we'll think this one, and all the others, are real babes.

No change, really. The big news story of the week just wasn't that interesting.

Posted by Alan at 22:39 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 19 April 2006 22:41 PDT home

Tuesday, 18 April 2006
Fixed Positions: No One Now Gives an Inch
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Fixed Positions: No One Now Gives an Inch

If you read these pages you should know who you have for company. Note these two logons early in the day, Tuesday, April 18, 2006, the first from Washington DC and the second from Fort Monmouth in New Jersey -

IP Address 198.81.129.# (Central Intelligence Agency)
IP Address 192.172.8.# (USAISC-CECOM) ... the US Army Information Systems Command-Communications and Electronics Command

Perhaps they were just clicking through to the photographs of famous places in Hollywood, planning a summer vacation.

That noted, the big national issue at hand on that same day was who's in charge and what you can say about them. The feds can make of it what they will.

But first there was, on the one hundredth anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake, some news of things going right in the world.

There was this from Reuters -
More than half a century after U.S. civil rights icon Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, the Alabama legislature on Tuesday voted to pardon her and others convicted for breaking segregation-era race laws.

The "Rosa Parks Act," approved unanimously by the state House of Representatives but opposed by three senators in the Senate, also clears the way for hundreds of other activists to wipe out their arrest records for acts of civil disobedience in the struggle for black civil rights...
Now that she's dead she's no longer a threat? No, it's just fixing thing, even if a bit late.

And there was this from the AFP wire - "A US contractor pleaded guilty to bribing American officials in charge of Iraq reconstruction to ensure contracts worth 8.6 million dollars were granted to his building companies, US authorities said."

What? Someone caught and admitting guilt and not getting another big contract? It wasn't Halliburton or Flour or Parsons, but it's something.

Something is in the air, a change.

In fact, out here, opening at the Geffen Playhouse the next day - All My Sons ("a father's revelation of what he did during World War II shatters two families in Arthur Miller's Tony-winning classic"). That's the play about the father whose company made defective aircraft parts in WWII and how his sons in the military deal with it, given their dead friends. It's a bit plodding and obvious, but it has its moments - the kind of thing you teach in high school English classes. The kids "get" it. Of course this is the time to revive the thing, and the guilty plea above is a bit of neat but amusing coincidence for the producers.

But the big news in Hollywood, on the one hundredth anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake up north, was this: Katie Holmes Gives Birth To Tom Cruise's Baby. It's a girl, named Suri - seven pounds, seven ounces. Fine. That will swamp the news cycles for days.

And everyone will no doubt wonder about this in the Daily Mirror (UK), two days before the blessed event -
Tom Cruise yesterday revealed his latest bizarre mission... to eat his new baby's placenta.

Cruise vowed he would tuck in straight after girlfriend Katie Holmes gives birth, saying he thought it would be "very nutritious".
Oh. It must be a Scientology thing, like silent birth (the woman is not permitted to make any sounds). Of course, the founder of, Scientology, L Ron Hubbard, bases the whole business on aliens, the Thetans, who came to earth seventy-five million years ago. Their spirits are in all our brains. It's obvious. And the woman should be silent in labor, and maybe they have something to do with the proposed meal.

Ah well, it's not just the benign and thoughtful and wise aliens spirits in the brains of the Scientologists, as the Mirror helpfully adds this -
Rod Stewart and girlfriend Penny Lancaster took home their baby's placenta, sprinkled it with tee tree oil and buried it in the garden.

In 1998, Channel 4 chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall fried a placenta with shallots and garlic and served it up to 20 guests, including the baby's mum and dad.

TV watchdogs later criticised the show, branding it "disagreeable".

But placenta-eating is considered normal in some cultures. Various recipes include one for placenta lasagna. Some say eating it helps avoid post-natal depression.
Whatever. The Scientologists should merge with the "Pastafarians" - the folks who worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Bring a nice Chianti. That'd work.

But this particular day wasn't all good news. Late in the afternoon the Reuters wire carried this - "The United States on Tuesday failed to secure international support for targeted sanctions against Iran and President George W. Bush refused to rule out nuclear strikes if diplomacy failed to curb the Islamic Republic's atomic ambitions."

It was already the next morning in Paris and the International Herald Tribune there opened with this -
As diplomats meeting in Moscow failed to reach agreement Tuesday on how best to increase the pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, the American and Iranian presidents, both using tough language, staked out unyielding positions.

President George W. Bush, in response to a reporter's question, declined to rule out a nuclear attack to stop Iran from building atomic weapons if diplomacy fails, saying that "all options are on the table." But he added, "We want to solve this issue diplomatically, and we're working hard to do so."

During an Army Day parade in Tehran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the military that it had to be "constantly ready," and he warned that Iran would "cut off the hand of any aggressor," The Associated Press reported.
This is not much like the lead-up to Iraq war, where Saddam Hussein said he was cooperating with inspections, and sort of was, and said he had no weapons of mass destruction, and it turned out he actually didn't. There only one side was unyieldingly bullheaded and refused to back down.

Here? Both sides are making big time threats. And we're saying, just like last time, we'd prefer a diplomatic resolution to this whole mess, but we may have to do what we have to do, this time with nukes, and this time even without the Brits, a few Aussies, and the troops from Fiji. And when the fallout drifts over our allies in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, they may gripe as their people glow and die, but we'll have done the right thing.

We stand firm. Iran may be surrounded by hostile powers, many with nukes, but they will not have them. This time the other side is just as firm. That's the new element.

This standing firm on our part was also on full display on Tuesday, April 18th on another matter. (Standing firm of course is a loaded linguistic construction. As the sociolinguistics guy - and later whacky senator from California - S. I. Hayakawa once pointed out, just as you can conjugate verbs, you can conjugate adjectives in each person - "I am firm and resolute, you are stubborn, and he is a bullheaded fool." So choose your adjective as you wish.)

The matter was the revolt of the generals against Donald Rumsfeld. That came to a head the same day.

It should be noted that a Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, Vietnam veteran and a bit of a maverick, came out and said Rumsfeld "does not command the respect and confidence of our men an women in uniform." It's time for him to go. (That's here if you want details.)

The senate minority leader, Harry Reid said so too (of course), but pointed out the problem wasn't so much Rumsfeld as Bush, as it was "more a question of leadership from the president." (That's here if you want details.) And Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois suggested on Tuesday that Rumsfeld should face what would be a symbolic "vote of confidence" in the Senate. (That's here if you want details.)

David Broder, sometimes called the dean of Washington journalists (probably because he has a gift for the obvious and has no firm opinion until everyone else has agreed on one), in the Washington Post said Rumsfeld needed to resign - "Even in Vietnam we saw no such open defiance." (That's here if you want details.)

Of course, the day before, Rumsfeld gave an exclusive interview to explain himself, on the Rush Limbaugh radio show. He said the media in the United States was just being manipulated by al Qaeda, specifically by that Osama fellow, and by the other guy, Zarqawi, so he didn't take it all very seriously. (That's here if you want details.) The Post carried his comments that "this too shall pass" and how there were over six thousand retired generals and if six of them don't like him it doesn't mean much, statistically. And he told the world, "I won't quit."

All this came to a head in a Tuesday press conference where the president got angry. CNN has the transcript posted here, and the relevant part is this, where CNN's Ed Henry has the closing question -
HENRY: Mr. President, you make it a practice of not commenting on potential personnel move.


HENRY: Calling it speculation.

BUSH: And you can understand why. Because we've got people's reputations at stake. And on Friday I stood up and said I don't appreciate the speculation about Don Rumsfeld. He's doing a fine job. I strongly support him.

HENRY: But what do you say to critics who believe that you're ignoring the advice of retired generals, military commanders, who say that there needs to be a change?

BUSH: I say I listen to all voices, but mine's the final decision and Don Rumsfeld is doing a fine job. He's not only transforming the military, he's fighting a war on terror. He's helping us fight a war on terror. I have strong confidence in Don Rumsfeld. I hear the voices and I read the front page and I know the speculation, but I'm the decider and I decide what is best and what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense. I want to thank you all very much.
And he turned on his heel and walked off. There's a video of the exchange here. He was ticked. He's in charge.

There was an explosion of comment on this, and perhaps the most pointed comes from Digby at Hullabaloo here.

Digby points back to an item in the current American Prospect (here) on how things work in the White House, with Vice President Cheney pretty much in charge -
Says one insider deeply involved in U.S. policy toward North Korea: "The president is given only the most basic notions about the Korea issue. They tell him, 'Above South Korea is a country called North Korea. It is an evil regime.' ... So that translates into a presidential decision: Why enter into any agreement with an evil regime?"
Digby -
I'm the decider! I yam, I yam! Evil, evil, evil.

Once again, I am stunned that the Republicans had the gall to foist this manchild on the United States of America - and that so many Americans accepted it for so long. There's a lot of talk in the wingnutsphere about "Bush Derangement Syndrome" which says that we are all suffering form irrational hatred of Dear Leader. But it's not accurate. Bush is just a spoiled, deluded little boy, pushed into a job that was obvious to any sentient being would be too much for him. My righteous anger is for the big money Pooh-Bahs like Dick Cheney who would gamble with this country's future by choosing a brand name in an empty suit for president. They proved that they can sell anything, I'll give them that. But as with their other colossal marketing success and business failure, Enron, the sales job couldn't cover the corruption and poor planning forever. Therefore, I blame the Republican Party more than little Junior. He's just a pathetic loser who believed his own hype -responsible for his actions, of course, but not the mastermind.

From his little tirade today, it appears that he's feeling like his authority is being questioned. That's just funny. It took his this long to figure out that he's not really in charge?
A bit harsh, but you could see what happened that way - a temper tantrum by a pathetic guy who thinks he's in charge when he's just out of the loop.

And what of this "wingnutsphere" (the pro-Bush universe of online magazines, news sites and web logs)? They say Bush's critics are just unhinged by hatred of the man, and envy of his manliness and whatnot.

But then they say things like this, one of the most often quoted defenses of the president - "It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile."

Take your choice, one or the other. It can't be both.

But everyone is hardening their positions.

Note this, from Editor and Publisher the same day -
On his national radio program today, William Bennett, the former Reagan and George H.W. Bush administration official and now a CNN commentator, said that three reporters who won Pulitzer Prizes yesterday were not "worthy of an award" but rather "worthy of jail."

He identified them as Dana Priest of The Washington Post, who wrote about the CIA's "secret prisons" in Europe, and James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times, who exposed the National Security Agency's domestic (a.k.a. terrorist) spy program.

Scott Johnson of the popular Powerline blog also weighed in today, under the heading "The Pulitzer Prize for Treason," declaring "Today's Pulitzer Prize award to the Times brings a new shame to the Pulitzer Prize committee."
The outrage Bennett sees is this (emphasis added) -
[These reporters] took classified information, secret information, published it in their newspapers, against the wishes of the president, against the request of the president and others, that they not release it. They not only released it, they publicized it - they put it on the front page, and it damaged us, it hurt us.

How do we know it damaged us? Well, it revealed the existence of the surveillance program, so people are going to stop making calls. Since they are now aware of this, they're going to adjust their behavior. ...on the secret sites, the CIA sites, we embarrassed our allies. So it hurt us there.

As a result, are they punished, are they in shame, are they embarrassed, are they arrested? No, they win Pulitzer prizes - they win Pulitzer prizes. I don't think what they did was worthy of an award - I think what they did is worthy of jail, and I think this investigation needs to go forward.
It seems the wishes of the president matter. The press should respect them.

It that what the press is supposed to do, what the president wishes? Listen to the audio clip here and see if you agree.

The first amendment attorney, Glenn Greenwald, is not surprised by all this, and here he points back to this, and op-ed piece in the Post that Bennett wrote Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor who has long argued we should legalize torture (see CNN from 2003 here). In the Post opinion piece they argue the press has "capitulated to Islamists." A free press would have published those Mohammed cartoons, and we don't have a free press, just a bunch of cowards.

The irony is obvious. The idea of a free press is one that publishes everything that's true and important, but not what the president asks them not to publish.

Greenwald - "Remember - these are the people who think that they are elevated and pure enough to invade other countries in order to teach the repressed masses about democracy and freedom. They endlessly tout their own patriotism and crusades for freedom while agitating for the imprisonment of journalists who publish stories which reflect poorly on their leader. On countless fronts, they are on the precipice of dismantling every defining value and principle of liberty we have."

And he throws Bennett's words back at him, as Bennett in the Post has said this - "[O]ur general agreement and understanding of the First Amendment and a free press is informed by the fact - not opinion but fact - that without broad freedom, without responsibility for the right to know carried out by courageous writers, editors, political cartoonists and publishers, our democracy would be weaker, if not nonexistent."

Yeah, right.

Greenwald -
It is difficult, and I think foolish, to ignore these ugly impulses which are always pulsating immediately beneath the veneer of so many Bush followers. These are not random, fringe commentators whose extremist views are being held up to make a point. Rather, these are among the most representative and, in Bennett's case, influential Bush followers who have been incessantly and indignantly calling for the imprisonment of journalists. And as the drumbeat for war against Iran grows more intense, so, too, will the perceived justification for these types of distinctly un-American measures. The more "times of war" we have, the less room we have for marginal liberties, such as the luxury of a free press.
But positions are hardening. The imprisonment of journalists may be necessary. How else will we bring freedom to the world?

The matching minor story is here with a follow-up here. The short version, military recruiters show up at the university up in Santa Cruz. There's a big student protest. The recruiters decide to bag it and leave (the campus at Santa Cruz is very hippie-left and it was a dumb idea, really). The right-side "wingnutsphere" is outraged and says this is outrageous, and unpatriotic, an abridgment of free speech, and un-American and all the rest. One of the most widely-read commentators on the right, Michelle Malkin, gets a document with the home phone numbers of the leaders of the student protest. She publishes their home phone numbers on her site. The kids get a lot of obscene calls, angry calls, and of course they get many, many death threats. They complain. Seems they're scared or something. Malkin refuses to take down the phone numbers - people should be responsible for their actions. They brought it on themselves. They should grow up. The lefties all over the media are pissed, and talk about the responsibility of the press. You don't publish people's private phone numbers and such. On the right there's more of the personal responsibility thing - but Malkin asks her readers to tone it down a bit, but she is not responsible if anything happens. These student leaders brought this on themselves, and, if some properly angry patriot does what he or she shouldn't and bumps one of them off, it wouldn't be her fault.

Yes, this is reminiscent of the pro-life anti-abortion folks publishing the home address of doctors who perform abortions. A few of them were gunned down. And now and then someone examines the addresses on the lists of registered sex offenders and bumps one of them off. The defense is always the same - the person bumped off was doing something evil, or would do something evil, and there was a greater good to be served.

Positions are hardening.

The only counter indication seem to be the much discussed Carl Bernstein item in the new Vanity Fair, where the somewhat less self-enamored of the two ace reporters who broke the Watergate story and brought down Richard Nixon (although not single-handedly), says positions are really shifting, and it's now time for Watergate-level Senate hearings. On what? On the conduct of the Bush administration in leading the country into war with Iraq and misleading the American public.

The item is long, detailed, tightly-argued and here. You might have seen Bernstein explaining his idea on Tuesday, April 18, on MSNBC's Countdown, in the opening segment, but the nub of it is this -
After Nixon's resignation, it was often said that the system had worked. Confronted by an aberrant president, the checks and balances on the executive by the legislative and judicial branches of government, and by a free press, had functioned as the founders had envisioned.

The system has thus far failed during the presidency of George W. Bush - at incalculable cost in human lives, to the American political system, to undertaking an intelligent and effective war against terror, and to the standing of the United States in parts of the world where it previously had been held in the highest regard.

"There was understandable reluctance in the Congress to begin a serious investigation of the Nixon presidency. Then there came a time when it was unavoidable. That time in the Bush presidency has arrived.
Has Carl Bernstein stopped following the news?

Everything has hardened. No one now gives an inch.

Posted by Alan at 22:09 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 19 April 2006 06:11 PDT home

Monday, 17 April 2006
Springtime for Hitler
Topic: Making Use of History

Springtime for Hitler

In Mel Brooks' The Producers, what the two odd producers are producing is "Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden" - a musical about Adolf Hitler written by fictional Nazi Franz Liebkind. (Read all about it here.) So it's April, and it's Springtime for Hitler, again, but in an odd sort of way.

It is? There's an awful lot of German floating around, and an awful of thinking about Munich, in the late thirties, not 1972 and the Olympics and all that. (Stephen Spielberg made the wrong movie, even if he had the right title)

April 14 there was Bill Montgomery with Munich, explaining that just as the supporters of our upcoming preemptive war with Iran - the one that includes using nuclear weapons to mess up their sites deep underground where they may be in the first stages that would mean they too would have some sort of nuclear weapon - did a whole lot of chatting up Saddam Hussein as "the new Hitler" before the current was, so that odd fellow, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who now runs Iran next door, is now "the new Hitler." Get rid of one and, suddenly, for some reason, there's another.

Where did they all come from, one after another?

Montgomery -
Munich - the name, not the movie - has long been one of the neoconservative movement's most cherished political symbols, a kind of short-hand description for everything the neocons despise about liberals and their approach to foreign policy.

Munich equals appeasement - the worst sin in the neocon theology. It also stands for weakness, cowardness [sic], naivety and an amoral willingness to bargain with the devil, as well as the failure to recognize that the devil never keeps his word.

Munich is a '30s newsreel of a feeble old man standing on an airport tarmac, holding an umbrella in one hand and waving a meaningless scrap of paper in the other. Munich is the betrayal of the Czechs and the perfidy of the French and the sound of jackboots marching down cobblestone European streets. Munich is Winston Churchill declaiming, with righteous thunder: "You have chosen dishonor over war. You shall have both." Munich is the city you never ever want to visit if you're the leader of the free world.

Now history, as opposed to the historical stereotype, is hardly so cut and dried. There is considerable evidence that the British and the French knew full well Hitler couldn't be trusted, and never expected him to keep the peace - for long. They were playing for time to complete their own rearmament programs, and worried (with good reason) about Germany's diplomatic feelers to Uncle Joe Stalin.

Was it a bad call? Almost certainly. But more a Machiavellian miscalculation than the wishful thinking of fools and cowards. However it later became politically expedient to foist responsibility for the entire fiasco of the West's response to Hitler's aggression on to the narrow shoulders of Neville Chamberlain. Ever thus to losers.
Montgomery points to this, the previous day, Hugh Hewitt, saying Iran's announcement that they had managed to enrich a tiny amount of uranium, even at a useless low grade, was the equivalent of Hitler's march into the Rhineland. Right. (For a review of where Hugh Hewitt sits in the pantheon of "big thinkers" on the right, and a bit on his background, see this from several weeks back.)

Is Hugh Hewitt alone? Of course he's not. This is the drumbeat now.

See William "Bill" Kristol in his latest, the lead article in neoconservative Weekly Standard, the public face of the movement (providing explanations for why we have to do what we have to do, and why what we have done is what we just had to do). This particular article is the centerpiece of the April 24 issue, asking the question - "Is the America of 2006 more willing to thwart the unacceptable than the France of 1936?"

Basically, we must remember, we are not French! -
In the spring of 1936 - seventy years ago - Hitler's Germany occupied the Rhineland. France's Léon Blum denounced this as "unacceptable." But France did nothing. As did the British. And the United States.
Yeah, yeah. We need to do something. Blum was a fool and Chamberlain looked funny with his little mustache and those odd glasses, not to mention the umbrella. They weren't real men. So we should be doing "real and urgent operational planning for bombing strikes and for the consequences of such strikes." And nukes are fine. We just have to plan for the fallout, of all kinds. And we need to do the bombing soon, because we're the good guys, and it's morally right -
It is not "moral progress" to put off serious planning for military action to a later date, probably in less favorable circumstances, when the Iranian regime has been further emboldened, our friends in the region more disheartened, and allies more confused by years of fruitless diplomacy than they would be by greater clarity and resolution now.
So it's 1936 again, and this time we nip this Hitler in the bud, just like we did the first one next door. This is what good guys do, as it's morally right.

So this is the public voice of the Bush-Cheney administration. We're the good guys, and those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. That's the line now.

For the superficially scholarly, this will work, and for the masses, just play Edelweiss, sweet and sadly in the background, and remind people of how those mean people made Maria and those cute kids trudge through the cold mountains - heck, everyone has seen The Sound of Music, and that song always brings tears to the eye.

Montgomery covers the actual history of what happened in 1936, of course, and what's happening with Iraq now, and you might want to glance at that -
What Ahmadinejad is not, however, is the absolute dictator of an advanced industrial state with a first-rate military. To pretend that he currently poses the same kind of threat to the world (or even to the Jewish people) that Hitler did in 1938 - or that he will pose such a threat any time within the next decade - is ridiculous. It also discredits the very legitimate concerns that the world should have about Iran and the future of the Iranian revolution.

... In the neocon wisdom tale, Munich is always about Neville Chamberlain and that scrap of paper. But that's only half the story - or not even half. Hitler might never have risen to power in the first place if the allies had dealt justly with Germany and the other defeated powers at Versailles, or if the Western governments of the 1920s and early '30s had shown one tenth the willingness to compromise with the democratic governments of the Weimer Republic that they later did to appease the Nazi regime.

The source of much of Hitler's political appeal - and the topic of most of his stump speeches before coming to power - was the spinelessness of the Weimer politicians in kowtowing to the Versailles Treaty, and the need for a strong leader who would stand up to the allies. The British and French only understand force, the would-be Fuehrer shrieked. Germany must take what was rightfully hers, instead of going hat in hand to plead for concessions.

And of course, the allies proved Hitler right. They insisted on enforcing every humiliating clause of the terms dictated at Versailles. They surrounded Germany with an encircling alliance of smaller states. They forced the German economy deeper and deeper into debt to finance the insane war reparations they demanded. Weimar - and democracy - were discredited and disgraced in the eyes of millions of ordinary Germans long before they started flocking to Hitler's rallies. ...
You get the idea. The devil is in the details - and now we have this pipsqueak state, surrounded by it's own "encircling alliance" of hostile states (nuclear-armed Israel to the west and our new ally, nuclear-armed Pakistan to the east, and most the rest with our troops on the ground or reluctant allies), and we want to humiliate this pipsqueak state with economic sanctions, if we don't nuke them first. History repeating itself. As before, making our own problems, and not at all in the manner Kristol and Hewitt frame the tale.

And of course we will not talk to them, one on one, just as would not hold bilateral talks with North Korea. You don't reward bad behavior. And Neville Chamberlain's mother dressed him funny. So they make all sorts of diplomatic overtures over the years (see this and this), and we tell them to go pound sand.

It's recipe for disaster, of course.

But Montgomery sees a bright side -
The good news, such as it is, is that Ahmadinejad's end-times ideology doesn't seem to include any grand territorial ambitions: no "Greater Iran" (Iran is already a greater Iran), no lebensraum in the east. We also have time - time to see how things shake out, to see if the ayatollahs can hamstring their troublesome protégé, to see if the democracy movement can make a political comeback. Time for Ahmadinejad to lose some of his popular shine as Iran's internal problems worsen. Time for our own hardline warmongers to be booted out of power.

But unfortunately, our divinely ordained president may not be prepared to wait (and the last sentence of the preceding paragraph appears to be one of the reasons.) Which means at this point we probably should be worrying less about what happened in Munich in 1938, and more about what happened there in 1972, when the German police moved in and tried to disarm the terrorists.

Multiply that carnage by a thousand, or a million, and you've got more than a political slogan; you've got a war.
But people do worry about what happened in Munich in 1938, and those who question what we're doing and suggest alternatives eventually get morphed in to the sad and sorry Neville Chamberlain - and what about Maria and all those cute kids shivering in the Austrian Alps bravely and softly singing Edelweiss? What about the children? Will no one think of the children!

What about the actual details? Ah well.

You might also want to check out Glenn Greenwald in Fighting all the Hitlers -
To pro-Bush war supporters, the world is forever stuck in the 1930s. Every leader we don't like is Adolf Hitler, a crazed and irrational lunatic who wants to dominate the world. Every country opposed to our interests is Nazi Germany.

From this it follows that every warmonger is the glorious reincarnation of the brave and resolute Winston Churchill. And one who opposes or even questions any proposed war becomes the lowly and cowardly appeaser, Neville Chamberlain. For any and every conflict that arises, the U.S. is in the identical position of France and England in 1937 - faced with an aggressive and militaristic Nazi Germany, will we shrink from our grand fighting duties in appeasement and fear, or will we stand tall and strong and wage glorious war?

With that cartoonish framework in place, war is always the best option. It is the only option for those who are noble, strong, and fearless. Conversely, the sole reason for opposing a war is that one is a weak-minded and weak-willed appeaser who harbors dangerous fantasies of negotiating with madmen. Diplomacy and containment are simply elevated, PC terms for "appeasement." War is the only option that works.
That about sums it up. As in this -
Anyone who opposes this mindlessly militaristic approach simply seeks, of course, to "appease the mullahs."

This sort of cheap equivalence between Hitler and the tyrant de jour is rather disorienting. One minute, Hitler is a singular manifestation of unique and unparalleled evil to which nothing should ever be compared, lest the uniqueness of his atrocities be minimized. The next minute, though, there are nothing but Hitler spawns running around everywhere, and we need to constantly wage war against each of them in order to avoid suffering the fate of 1938 Czechoslovakia and Neville Chamberlain.
But it's an old trick, and Greenwald documents it.

The president's father here in 1990 -
The most significant aspect of Bush's personal demonization of Saddam Hussein was his comparison of the Iraqi leader to Adolph Hitler. Sometimes this comparison was implicit rather than explicit: "In World War II, the world paid dearly for appeasing an aggressor who could have been stopped."

... On one occasion, he even implied that the Iraqi leader was worse than Hitler: "This morning, right now, over three hundred innocent Americans - civilians - are held against their will in Iraq. Many of them are reportedly staked out as human shields near possible military targets, something even Adolph Hitler didn't do."
Richard Perle in the run-up to our second war against Iraq here -
Appearing on the "Meet the Press" on February 23, Bush administration official Richard Perle compared the charade of visits by United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq with the infamous 1944 visit by Red Cross officials to the Nazis' Theresienstadt ghetto, where the performance of the prisoners' orchestra helped lull the visitors into believing that Nazi treatment of the Jews was not so terrible after all. Perle was referring to Saddam Hussein's systematic effort to hide Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

... Perle's remark was the latest in a series of statements by U.S. officials drawing analogies between current events and those of the Nazi era. President Bush, in his speech after the September 11 attacks, said that Muslim terrorists "follow in the path of Nazism." Other U.S. officials have compared European reluctance to confront Saddam with Europe's reluctance to confront Hitler in the 1930s.
Yeah, yeah. And now just transfer the Hitler label to the guy next door and hum a few bars of Edelweiss. Works every time.

Greenwald -
That, of course, is the central strategy, and it is best accomplished through the never tired Hitler imagery. But this sort of mindset is as simplistic as it is manipulative and, as intended, is a rock-solid recipe for eternal war. Not every dictator is irrational and suicidal. Most are not, including the most brutal. Throughout the 20th Century, the U.S. was able quite successfully to contain, negotiate with, and even form discrete common alliances with a whole array of dictators, thugs, murderous cretins and even militaristic madmen.

And the U.S. is not unique in that regard. No country is pure, and every country, driven by rational self-interest, finds ways to achieve co-existence even with the most amoral regimes. The notion that we have to wage war or even threaten war against every hostile, tyrannical government is itself sheer lunacy, and yet that is the premise driving this crusade for more war.

To be sure, Saddam Hussein was a brutal thug who murdered and oppressed his citizens with virtually no limits, etc. etc., but the notion that he was ever in a league with Adolph Hitler in terms of the threats he posed, the capabilities he possessed, or even the ambitions he harbored, was always transparent myth. This equivalence is even more fictitious with regard to Iran, which - although saddled with a highly unpopular president who is clearly malignant and who uses nationalistic rhetoric to boost the morale of his base - is a country that is, in fact, ruled by a council of mullahs which has exhibited nothing but rationality and appears to be guided by nothing other than self-interest.

We were led into invading Iraq by a group of people who are as bloodthirsty as they are historically ignorant. They are stuck in a childish and stunted mental prison where every event, every conflict, every choice is to be seen exclusively through the prism of a single historical event, an event which - for a variety of reasons, some intellectual, some cultural, some psychological - is the only one that has any resonance for them. Even as we are still mired in their last failed war, they are attempting to impose these stunted historical distortions to lead us into a new one.
But it's what they know. And it sells - simplistic and manipulative works. Fictitious equivalences? A transparent myth? Myths have real power. And "The Sound of Music" made over one hundred and sixty-three million dollars (but "Titanic" - about a hopeless disaster - is still number one). Evil fictionalized Nazis sell.

And we're going to war.

How about a little more German?

Bill Montgomery in a second item explains we sort have to go to war, as it's the old flucht nach vorne - the "flight forward." This, he says, "refers to the tendency of both individuals and institutions to seek a way out of a crisis by becoming ever more daring and aggressive (or, as the White House propaganda department might put it: 'bold')."

Or, as he says, it's like the gambler in Vegas, who tries to get out of a hole by doubling down on each successive bet. And everyone in America is mad about poker. There's hours of it on television, what with the endless "World Poker Tour" and "Celebrity Poker" and all. Yes, it's about as exciting to watch as curling, but people do understand it now, and do understand wagering strategies, and bluffing, and far too much else.

As for this flucht nach vorne business, we're reminded of previous examples - "Napoleon's attempt to break the long stalemate with Britain by invading Russia, the decision of the Deep South slaveholding states to secede from the Union after Lincoln's election, and Milosevic's bid to create a 'greater Serbia' after Yugoslavia fell apart."

But real leaders do have to be bold -
The logic is understandable, if malevolent. Instead of creating a secular, pro-American client state in the heart of the Middle East, the invasion of Iraq has destroyed the front-line Arab regime opposing Tehran, installed a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad and vastly increased Iranian influence, not only in Iraq, but throughout the Shi'a world. It's also moved the Revolutionary Guard one step closer to the Kuwaiti and Saudi oil fields - the prize upon which the energy security of the West depends.

By the traditional standards of U.S. foreign policy, this is a fiasco of almost unbelievable proportions. More to the point, the neocons may believe that unless something dramatic is done to recoup those losses, they cannot safely withdraw large numbers of troops from Iraq, since they are A.) the only remaining source of U.S. influence in the country and B.) the only shield against Iranian infiltration of both Iraq and the Shi'a majority regions of Saudia Arabia and the gulf emirates. Yet the military need for such a draw down becomes more critical with each passing day, as the all-volunteer Army is stretched towards its breaking point.

In other words, the administration, and the Pentagon, have gotten themselves into one hell of a jam - militarily, strategically and politically. As desperate and reckless as attempted regime change in Iran might seem to us, to the Cheneyites it may look like the only move left on the board.
So what the heck, double down. We could get lucky. And if we bomb a lot and use nukes, what's the problem? Yes, you can lose it all. But you might win big. You never know.

But we are told that all this talk of a new war with Iran and bombing the snot out of them, and using nukes for the first time since Nagasaki, is just wild speculation. We're going to fix this one with diplomacy. Of course we will not meet with them on any level at any time on any topic. Like the last time, we are urging the UN to do something, and if they prove themselves as hopeless, corrupt and dithering as our new UN ambassador has long said they are, well, what choice will we have? Someone's got to do the right thing.

It's the same old thing. See Gregory Djerejian at "The Belgravia Dispatch" with this. He's done all the legwork and compiled all the denials from the president and top military and civilian folks before the current Iraq war - there are no war plans, we seek a diplomatic solution and all the rest. He provides all the quotes, with links. And he also provides what we know now. The best is the president publicly saying he has no war plans on his desk, when he was deep in discussions of the details of the war plan he had requested. But he didn't lie, of course. It was on the coffee table by the sofa? "Fool me once, shame on you - fool me twice..." You know how that goes.

Greenwald - "...the array of unreliable and misleading statements made with regard to many matters prior to the invasion of Iraq have completely destroyed this government's credibility, making its word automatically subject to serious doubt by any rational person - including, most destructively, its own citizens, in a way that is almost certainly unprecedented in our nation's history."

Maybe so. But if they do that Hitler thing enough, and tap into our memories of Christopher Plummer singing Edelweiss, the doubts will fade. Maybe.

Yep, it's Springtime for Hitler, again.

Posted by Alan at 21:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 18 April 2006 06:22 PDT home

Sunday, 16 April 2006
Hot of the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot of the Virtual Press

Just Above Sunset logoThe new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 16 for the week of April 16, 2006.

This week it's five extended commentaries on current events, from the week beginning with the immigration controversy still hot, then the move to more pressing matters of the week, the upcoming war with Iran, maybe, if it's not already underway, to the revolt of the generals and all the implications of that, to the national narrative changing and the press waking up, or something.

Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, sends a short item with photos from New York, of all places, covering the massive rally in lower Manhattan of all the immigrants, legal and not, and their supporters, saying it sure would be nice to be real Americans. (Then he flew back to Paris.)

There's also one of those infrequent arts columns, some comments on the one hundredth birthday of Samuel Beckett, and the celebrations in Paris, and the lack of notice in Hollywood.

The photography, Easter in Hollywood, and for the pagans, mythological beasts on Melrose Avenue, surrealism on the Sunset Strip, and some nature shots - palms, water studies and the usual botanicals.

Our friend in Texas gives us more of the weird of course, and there are quotes pertaining to this revolt of the generals.

And there are links to two more photography pages at Just Above Sunset Photography.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________

Stormy Monday: Too Much News
Thought Experiment: "When a culture is as historically clueless and morally desensitized as this one appears to be..."
The New Master Narrative: The Hits Keep Coming
Press Notes: Do We Get a Fair Fight This Time?
Something Is Up: The Grand Unified Theory

On the Scene: Somebody Believes in America!
The Arts: Beckett and Hollywood

Southern California Photography ______________________

Far Out: Mythological Beasts in Hollywood
Fame: The Eye on Sunset Boulevard
Patterns: The Geometry of Palms
Botanicals: Easter Blooms

Quotes for the week of April 16, 2006 - The Revolt of the Generals

Also, at Just Above Sunset Photography ______________________

Squirrel's Foot Fern (Davallia trichomanoides)
Diversions: France

Posted by Alan at 16:32 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 15 April 2006
The Arts: Beckett and Hollywood
Topic: The Arts

The Arts: Beckett and Hollywood

Full moon over Hollywood, Thursday, April 13, 2006There was a full moon on Thursday, April 13th, the one hundredth birthday of the playwright Samuel Beckett. How odd. The photo at the right is the moon that night floating over the Hollywood Hills. Of course, no one noted this man's birthday much in Hollywood, as his works really could not be turned into movies. Generally plays do not make good movies, or more precisely, good plays make for dull movies, as in various versions of "The Glass Menagerie" not exactly lighting up the box offices across America and so on. Take a fairly crappy stage play, never produced, and you can make a fine movie. The obvious example is "Casablanca" - just voted the best screenplay of all time and based on "Everybody Comes to Rick's" by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, which seems to have never been produced on stage.

Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" was first performed in Paris in 1953 and ran for four hundred performances at the Théâtre de Babylone, and went on to become perhaps the most important play of the twentieth century - but it's not for Hollywood. The man may have who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, but his stuff can't be marketed to those who consume what is produced in these parts.

But Paris is not Hollywood, and on the 13th, as AFP reports here - "In a scene which might have appealed to Samuel Beckett's sense of the absurd, French and Irish fans marked the writer's 100th birthday Thursday at his grave topped with a bowler hat, flowers and a banana."

It was only about forty people in the Montparnasse cemetery, nor far from where Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, hangs his hat. There were reading in French and English which dealt with "Beckett's fundamental themes of birth and death."

The bowler hat, flowers and banana? The characters in "Waiting for Godot" wore bowler hats. In "Krapp's Last Tape" the nearly blind and deaf man lives in a one filthy room, living on bananas. The flowers were just conventional, of course.

AFP background -
Beckett, who was born near Dublin on April 13, 1906, was buried in a simple, granite grave here after his death in December 1989.

Ever struggling to capture the bleakness and futility which he saw in the human condition, Beckett, who moved to Paris in 1937, wrote many of his most memorable works in French first, delighting in the economy forced on him by writing in a foreign language.

Those who marked the 100th anniversary of his birth both in Paris and in a larger ceremony held in Dublin on Thursday, remembered a man, who despite being intensely private, was also generous and kind.

"Beckett was a writer who turned a relentless searchlight on the human condition, directly and courageously, making each of us confront our deepest selves with little help along the way except those flashes of black humour," said Ireland's ambassador to France, Anne Anderson.

... The widow of Beckett's French publisher Jerome Lindon has now donated the French manuscript of "Waiting for Godot" to France's National Library, the library announced on Thursday.

Beckett, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, was "Irish by inspiration and in his imagination, his syntax and his cadence. He was deeply, pervasively Irish," Anderson told the gathering.

But we know how French he was too. He loved France, he chose to live here, he wrote in French, he thought in French. So, French and Irish, we gather together to honor this great man."
It seem that Marianne Alphant, a curator at the Pompidou Centre, is organizing a major Beckett exhibition there for March 2007 (the Los Angeles stuff will be gone by then).

There was no one from Hollywood at the Montparnasse cemetery, or none mentioned, but there were his old neighbors from the village of Ussy-sur-Marne, not far from Paris. And in regard to this man who stunningly portrayed existential angst, and how one can or cannot get along in this sorry world devoid of inherent meaning, one villager, Paule Savane, noted this - "He was very solitary and looking for peace and calm. But every Sunday when the children returned home from their catechism lessons, he always had chocolates and sweets for those who knocked on his door."

The world may be devoid of inherent meaning, but there's no point being a grump when the kids drop by.

A good appreciation can be found here - Richard Ouzounian in the Toronto Star. That opens with this - "He opened the door to what looked like a darkened room and invited us to step inside. Once our eyes grew accustomed to the shadows, we could see things more clearly than ever before. That's the achievement of author Samuel Beckett, who was born 100 years ago this week."

And Ouzounian notes the irony of Beckett's birth in Ireland in 1906 - it was in both Good Friday and Friday the 13th. That about sums it up, as there is this in "Waiting for Godot" - " day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more."

But the serious part -
Beckett has variously been called a minimalist, an absurdist, an existentialist, a nihilist, a pessimist, an anarchist and an atheist, but he would shrug off all those labels, insisting instead "the words, the words, the words - they speak for themselves." One of the few times he was ever lured into categorizing himself was when someone asked him how he would compare himself to James Joyce, his mentor, friend and fellow Irish literary giant.

"James Joyce was a synthesizer, trying to bring in as much as he could," he said. "I am an analyzer, trying to leave out as much as I can."

What he chose to leave out was what the theatre tended to thrive on in the mid 20th-century: elegant settings, sumptuous costumes, twisting plots, and happy endings.

Instead, he gave us such things as a stage bare except for a single tree, occupied by two shabby tramps waiting for someone who never comes.

On that empty stage and in those tattered souls, he offered us a wealth of brutality, compassion, hope and despair.

Still, he would constantly denigrate the value of his work to anyone who would listen. "What do I know of man's destiny?" he would sneer. "I could tell you more about radishes."

"I have an Irish soul and a French brain," he once laconically quipped. "That explains it all."
But why do all these Irish writers end up in Paris? These two, friends there, and the earlier Irish-born Oscar Wilde (but not his choice exactly). Who knows?

Ouzounian's biographical and literary notes follow, and they're worth a read. And this nugget is cool -
He moved back to Paris in 1937 and kept writing, although his books sold very little and his strongest work from the period, Murphy, took years to find a publisher.

Still, Beckett was starting to form a distinctive voice of his own, though it was nearly stilled forever when a deranged pimp stabbed him through the lung on a Parisian street. Joyce rallied to his side, as did a young woman named Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil, who would soon become Beckett's constant companion, finally marrying him in 1961.

The arrival of World War II brought one of the strangest chapters in the previously apolitical Beckett's life. As the Nazis drew near to his beloved Paris, he never thought of returning to Ireland but instead became radically politicized and joined the Resistance, where he was known by the code name "L'Irlandais."

He would later dismiss his activities as "just Boy Scout stuff," but the French Government awarded him the Croix de Guerre in 1945 "for extreme bravery."
So he was not only nice to kids, he fought the good fight, for the good guys.

And in the fifties he turned to writing fro the stage -
It took four years for actor-director Roger Blin to raise enough money to get En Attendant Godot on stage in Paris, in a decrepit venue in Montparnasse called Théâtre de Babylone.

When it opened in January of 1953, the critics were dismissive and the initial audiences confused. But people kept filling the theatre. There was something that drew them to this simple work about two tramps, a bully, a mute and a little boy, all waiting for someone who never comes.

Director Peter Hall brought it to England, but Ralph Richardson turned down the lead on the advice of John Gielgud, who called the play "rubbish." Richardson was later to pronounce it "the biggest mistake of my career, turning down the greatest play of my generation."

It opened quietly in the summer of 1955, once again to confused reviews and baffled audiences, who still couldn't keep away.

But some of the critics began to grasp the message, and the venerable Harold Hobson in the Sunday Times called it "something that will securely lodge in a corner of your mind as long as you live."

When it opened on Broadway the next year, starring the great comedian Bert Lahr, The New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson, while admitting that the play mystified him, hailed "the strange power this drama has to convey the impression of some melancholy truths about the hopeless destiny of the human race."

Over the decades, Waiting for Godot has proven to be one of the most durable scripts of our time. It has been cast all white, all black and rainbow-hued. Mike Nichols took it on a mad comic ride with Steve Martin and Robin Williams...
Ah Hollywood folks. But still, it's a different sort of thing than is done out here.

Ouzounian quotes Harold Pinter on Beckett, and we see how far from popular entertainment Beckett really was -
He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going, and the more he grinds my nose in the shit, the more I am grateful to him.

He's not fucking me about, he's not leading me up any garden path, he's not slipping me a wink, he's not flogging me a remedy or a path or a revelation or a basinful of breadcrumbs, he's not selling me anything I don't want to buy - he doesn't give a bollock whether I buy or not - he hasn't got his hand over his heart. Well, I'll buy his goods, hook, line and sinker, because he leaves no stone unturned and no maggot lonely. He brings forth a body of beauty.
Yep, Pinter, explaining Beckett, just explained Hollywood.

So the anniversary passed without much notice out here. But the full moon was mighty fine.

Posted by Alan at 17:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 16 April 2006 17:19 PDT home

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